Class scheduling no easy task at Haverford
By biconews On 1 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Matt Sharp

In a coordinated system of numerous colleges and hundreds of course offerings, no one would expect scheduling those classes to be an easy task.

Haverford Registrar Lee Watkins knows the problem all too well. In addition to several courses that consistently attract large numbers, he said, every year it seems there are a few that exceed expectations. The College has a limited number of rooms for large classes, so when many faculty members wish to hold them at the same lime, there is no way to satisfy everyone. Watkins was not overstating when he called the scheduling “a very hard thing to do.”

Chemistry professor Frances Blase knows the problem as well. Her Organic Chemistry class has nearly 70 students in it, but when Case Studies in Chemistry unexpectedly exceeded 100, Blase was moved to a smaller classroom to accommodate the larger class. Blase’s class fills the room near its capacity, and although she is managing, she said, “It’s not an ideal situation.” The problem, essentially, is timing. Because many chemistry classes have afternoon labs, she explained, too many of them end up in the morning slot from 9:30a.m. to 10:30a.m. . Stokes Auditorium was already occupied in that block, and the department simply ran out of large space.

The College’s facilities are not at the heart of the problem. Classics professor Daniel Gillis said, “The last thing we need is more classroom space.” Others agreed; existing classrooms should be able to handle all the College’s classes.

Haverford’s class sizes are not the cause of scheduling difficulties either. Provost Elaine Hansen said the median class size still hovers around 18. What causes the scramble for space, said Hansen, is “the difficulty of spreading everything across the whole day.” The most common problem is that large numbers of faculty prefer to teach during the same favorite hours, generally between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. . As a result, not only do classes have to compete for space, but students also find their options narrowed when they want to take courses that meet at the same time.

According to Watkins, the popular time slots tend to be on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 11:30, 11:30 to 1:00, and 1:00 to 2:30, and on Monday and Wednesday from 12:30 to 2:00. This semester, he said, many rooms happen to be empty in the Tuesday and Thursday 11:30 block, but the 10 o’clock slot is heavily booked.

Faculty members desire these times for a variety of reasons. Both Watkins and Hansen mentioned that professors fear that students will not register for early-morning classes, and that if they do register, they will be more likely to miss class meetings. Hansen said the same is true of late afternoons, such as 2:30 to 4:00 blocks, because many students have afternoon athletic commitments and science labs. Watkins also said professors often prefer to teach twice a week for an hour and a half rather than for an hour three times a week.

Religion department Chairperson David Dawson added that professors may avoid teaching on Mondays or Fridays to give themselves time to do their own research or writing. In addition, students already shun Friday afternoon classes.

Dawson’s class, “Modem Christian Thought,” meets on Monday and Wednesday from 12:30 to 2:00. The class totals under 25 students, but in Gest 103 even the windowsills were full. Dawson managed to have the class moved to a larger room on the third floor of Stokes.

The problem comes partially from the freedom that individual departments have with scheduling classes. Watkins explained that faculty members give requests for time slots to their department chairs, who assemble schedules for their departments and pass on the results to Watkins.

Watkins then makes any necessary adjustments by asking the department chairs to make specific changes. This generally works, he said, and the faculty is cooperative. However, it means no centralized office necessarily enforces an even distribution. Watkins said it is deliberate that the departments handle so much of their own schedules, and that “we like them to be in control.”

Some organization outside the department is sometimes required, as in the case of the Haverford math, chemistry and physics departments - the three all hold classes in Stokes, and so need to coordinate their offerings. If a department has a counterpart at Bryn Mawr, the two departments avoid offering similar courses at the same time so students have a choice. Still, much of the scheduling is up to the individual departments, and, in turn, the individual professors.

Watkins said that Bryn Mawr has fewer scheduling problems because it places enrollment caps on more courses. He said he thought it was important that classes be kept small to preserve a high quality of teaching, and he feels that Haverford should limit the enrollment of more courses.

Gillis, on the other hand, placed more emphasis on the choices available to students. Though he acknowledged the tension between the respective advantages of small classes and students’ ability to get into the classes they want, he felt that it was more important for students to have a choice than for classes to be kept small.

Gillis said he believed the solution to the scheduling crunch was to take more measures to distribute classes evenly, with intervention from above if necessary. He said the office of the Provost should “encourage more flexibility” in the faculty’s choices of class periods, encouraging some to move to less crowded times. He mentioned that in many larger schools, department chairs simply assign time slots to each professor, so the professors do not get a choice of times. He said he, for one, would not mind such an imposition.

Hansen added that, although it is valuable to Haverford’s course selection process, the “shopping period” during the first week complicates the scheduling problem. Students often preregister for limited-enrollment classes they eventually drop, which means classes may be overcrowded during the first week. When unexpectedly large numbers of students shop a class, she said, “those first few days are really uncomfortable.” In addition, professors may try to change rooms early when ultimately the change proves unnecessary.

A few solutions are in the works. Hansen said the College is currently undergoing a study of its use of classroom space; they expect to find that it is not using its space at maximum efficiency. Watkins is proposing added time slots for upper-level seminars, including a 1:30 to 4:00 block on Friday, and possibly also on Monday and Wednesday.

All things considered, however, scheduling conflicts and space shortages at peak times may be inevitable. Though he admitted that “nobody likes it,” Watkins predicted that it will continue unless the College imposes many more enrollment caps. Hansen said, “I don’t think any college has solved the problem.”

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